Our Boston Celtics traveled to Houston and took one on the chin, 101-89, but before we push the panic button we need to put this game into the proper context. Doc Rivers’ squad is still a work in progress, with plenty of new faces trying to figure things out on the fly. Just take a look at what’s happening in Los Angeles; from a fantasy basketball standpoint the Lakers look like a super team – on paper they look like a lock for the 2013 NBA Finals – but there is so much more to building a basketball team than just assembling players. Sure, it helps that LA has Dwight Howard in the post and a quarterback like Steve Nash directing the offense (if and when he returns from the leg injury that has sidelined him all season). But teams need a chance to come together and develop an identity. There has to be a certain cohesion and consistency to be great. The Lakers don’t have that at the moment, and neither do our Boston Celtics.
But that doesn’t mean all is lost.
Danny Ainge did a great job reconstructing the roster this off-season, beginning with the drafting of Jared Sullinger. Sullinger is an off-the-charts player in terms of his basketball IQ, and he has more than the requisite skills to succeed and help his team at the NBA level. But, in some circles, people tend to lose sight of the fact that Sullinger is still a rookie, and that he’s learning the game while trying to help the Celtics win games.
Sullinger finished with 7 points and 6 rebounds in 14 minutes of action off of the bench against the Rockets tonight. He also had an assist and a block, and two of those rebounds came on the offensive end of the court. To some those numbers might be considered pedestrian, but I’m not one of them. I see a player who continues to improve and make strides, and I see a player who is going to be a valuable part of the Celtics’ basketball future.
And then there’s Jeff Green. Tonight was another roller coaster game for Green, in that he finished with 9 points and 7 boards in 25 minutes on the court. Good numbers to be sure, but perhaps not the impact numbers that people might expect of someone with a shiny new $34 contract. I say get off Jeff Green’s back. Give the man time to grow. He’s barely a year removed from open heart surgery, a procedure that the average human being comes back from in a very methodical fashion. Green is not only back, he’s playing NBA basketball at an elite level, stressing his body in ways that not only challenge him physically, but also test his mental toughness as well. Green is going to have moments of doubt. Just accept that fact and move on. He’ll have those games where he’s not so sure of himself or his gifts, and his impact on the box score – and the final score – will reflect that doubt. Give him time. He’s going to work his way through these doubts and fears. Besides, it’s not really in Green’s nature to demand the basketball and to be ‘The Man’. He’s more Scottie Pippen than Michael Jordan in that regard, even though Rivers is encouraging him to become more aggressive and to attack on a more consistent basis. Give Green credit. He’s trying to be more assertive. He was 4-11 from the floor tonight, but there will come a time when Green will find himself taking anywhere from 18 to 25 shots per game.
Whether you are willing to accept it or not, Sullinger and Green are two key pieces of the Celtics’ future nucleus. That both men are out there, giving it their all under difficult circumstances, should be applauded and celebrated by Celtics fans everywhere.
We should all take a page from Rivers’ playbook, in that we should take a deep breath and not live or die with the outcome of each and every game. This is going to be a process. The Celtics need a healthy Avery Bradley back in the rotation. They need another big who can come in and take some of the pressure off of Kevin Garnett.
I know that it has been well-documented, but it’s worth mentioning again that Doc Rivers’ group was sub-500 at the All-Star Break last season, and that they ended up pushing the eventual champion Miami Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Rivers is an elite basketball coach, world class. He’s equal parts X’s and O’s and people person, a player’s coach who knows how to communicate with his team and keep them engaged, night in and night out. He also gets their buy-in on what he’s trying to do. The players play for him, and they strive to learn from him. Sullinger and Green are no exceptions. While there may still be plenty of warts with their respective games, both players are better now than they were at the start of the season.
And guess what?
They’re only going to get better.
And that, my friends, is something worth waiting for.